Wednesday, April 23, 2014

the recruit: Marial Shayok

Name: Marial Shayok
Position: SF
Hometown: Ottawa, ON
School: Blair Academy (NJ)
Height: 6'7"
Weight: 205

24/7: 89, three stars; #30 SG, NJ #4, US #119
ESPN: 79, three stars; #33 SF, NJ #2
Rivals: three stars
Scout: three stars

Other offers: Marquette, Michigan, Indiana, Boston College, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgia, La Salle, Rutgers

Marquette fans must be hating the state of Virginia right now.  Their coach departed for VT and took two of their four-man recruiting class with him (and those two instantly became far and away the top two players in VT's incoming class), and UVa became the beneficiary of that choice as well just last night when Marial Shayok flipped to Tony Bennett.

Shayok was a player UVa had pursued heavily last year, in the normal recruiting cycle for 2014 players, and the Hoos essentially finished as the runner-up, so they were a natural contender when Shayok got his release from Marquette.  UVa already had commitments from all three of the other class members when Shayok committed to Marquette, so this is something they'd've done even without the news of Teven Jones transferring; Shayok was a guy they wanted, period.

Quite a few other folks did, too.  The actual complement of Shayok's offer list is fuzzy; various credible sources list schools like Kansas State, Villanova, St. Louis, without any backup from one another; the ones above have multiple sources.  After Shayok's decommitment from Marquette, UVa's competition came from Michigan and Indiana mainly (as well as Marquette again) but UVa seems to be the only place he seriously looked.

A native Canadian, Shayok played his junior and senior years of high school ball at Blair Academy in New Jersey, a noted talent magnet.  Several of his teammates are also headed to D-I schools, either this summer or in the future, and the place is also known for producing NBAers Luol Deng and Charlie Villanueva - and UVa center Mike Tobey.  Shayok arrived there too late to be a teammate of his, though.

At Blair, Shayok was asked to play a huge variety of roles, and he prides himself on his versatility.  He probably won't be playing a lot of point guard at UVa, but he can do most things you ask of a wing and a stretch four.  His shooting is usually mentioned as a weak point of his game, but various descriptions of his strengths combine to give the impression of a player who thrives on constant motion, whether with or without the ball.  He's got that wingspan that coaches are real big on - it's been talked about as anywhere from seven feet to seven-two - and ESPN calls him a college-ready defender right now and others say his potential as a defender is almost limitless.  You can guess what Tony Bennett likes about him.

It's Shayok's versatility - and his bloodline - that make him difficult to project.  If you ever watched Michigan this year (I might have caught a game or two) and saw Glenn Robinson III play, that's the best comparison I can think of; Robinson only ever knocked down a three if it was wide open, but he could do remarkable things with the ball, was an outstanding finisher, and was asked to guard positions two through four (though he wasn't especially suited to the latter.)  Shayok sounds much like a poor man's Robinson in terms of athleticism and abilities on offense, and better on defense.

He's also coming from a basketball-playing family, the respective sizes of which lead some to believe he's not finished growing and could fill out into a true four.  Right now he's a big shooting guard, or a biggish wing, or a skinny-as-hell power forward, but another couple inches and 20-25 pounds (he'll probably put on the weight regardless) and he'll look an awful lot like Akil Mitchell.

Right now we'll call him a three, as he draws a few comparisons to Justin Anderson as well.  However, it's become clear that versatility is one of Tony Bennett's priorities.  I think this is only partly a system thing - that is, an on-court system thing.  I think Tony looks for players who don't fit a positional mold, because really talented players who do fit tend to be fought over by the big-name programs.  Tweeners often get looked at for what they can't do, so a smart guy like Tony figures he'll take them for what they can do and mix and match the combos to cover for the things they can't.  Thus you end up with our roster, which has a bunch of guys more aptly described as 1.5s (Brogdon), 2.5s (Harris), and 3.5s (Nolte) rather than 1s, 2s, and 3s.  Well, that's Shayok, too; whether he's a 2.5 or a 3.5 will depend on where his growth settles down.

This season, there'll now be an even fiercer competition for court time; Shayok is going to join Devon Hall and B.J. Stith as new contenders for Joe Harris's minutes, with Justin Anderson in the mix for more of a role as well and Malcolm Brogdon and London Perrantes already looming as 30-minute players.  The freshman class got fat all of a sudden, with the late addition and Hall's redshirt; there are now five each in the freshman and junior classes, which presents a recruiting challenge down the road.  There are two 2014 players - Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mikhailiuk - that Tony is in hot pursuit of, not really caring that it'll create a six-man class again, but if neither goes with UVa then it leaves two spots in the 2015 class.  Tony would likely try and fill both if for no other reason than to try and spread things out.  The hot competition for minutes might well mean a redshirt for someone, too, and by the way there's no reason it necessarily won't be Shayok.  You know how things are with Tony: it depends on how you defend.  In any case, though, it ought to be a really interesting subplot for next year's preseason.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

the recruit: Chris Peace

Name: Chris Peace
Position: LB/DE
Hometown: Newport News
School: Denbigh
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220

24/7: 70, two stars; #211 OLB, VA #86
ESPN: 76, three stars; #91 OLB, VA #32, East #126
Rivals: 5.4, two stars
Scout: two stars

Other offers: FCS only

Today we finally wrap up the series on 2014 recruits.  Does this mean the 2015 recruiting board is finally going to make an appearance soon?  It might!  We can certainly hope.

Chris Peace committed on the same day that Cory Jones did; both received an offer and committed almost immediately during their official visit in January.  Fitting, because the similarities between the two players are immense.  If I told you about a recent basketball convert who piled up huge sack numbers in his first year of playing D-line and whose eye-opening athleticism earned him an offer from Mike London to play the role of pass-rushing OLB in Jon Tenuta's scheme, despite being ignored by the vast majority of FBS football, I still haven't given you enough info to distinguish the two.

So you're lucky I don't just mail it in and link you to the Cory Jones profile.  There are some differences, though.  Peace is not as brand-spanking-new to football as Jones is; he just grew.  A lot.  As a junior - that is, when colleges are really paying attention - Peace was a 6'1", 170-pound wide receiver, and so, ended up on no radars at all because those guys are a dime a dozen, and 170 pounds is too skinny to pay any attention to.

Then he gained 50 pounds, kept the wide-receiver quickness, and added muscle, to the point where ESPN uses the words "strong" or "strength" five times in their evaluation.  This is another difference between Peace and Jones - ESPN likes Peace a lot more, praising his strength, speed, and perhaps most importantly, motor.  Scout says mostly the same things, except for the strength part - they're not as high on that.  Nevertheless, their write-up finishes with, "Peace IS A MAJOR GET" - emphasis very much theirs.

With Peace, Jones, and J.J. Jackson, UVA's entire linebacker class consists of hybrid DE tweeners rather than true linebackers.  You would expect a learning curve for all of them, but especially these last two.  I'm tempted to interpret the presence of all three of them as a way of saying, "look, not all of these guys are gonna pan out, but we're hedging our bets here and at least one of them ought to."  In a way that's a self-fulfilling prophecy, because three guys at the same position in the same class can't all be starters.  By definition, someone will lose that competition.

That's one to look at it, though it's probably not the coaches' intention.  More likely, they saw athletes they liked and thought they could use, thought were flying too far under the radar, and offered, which has been London's SOP for his whole time here.  It just so happens that these are LB/DEs rather than DB/WRs.  Like Jones, Peace is a pretty blank slate, and these kinds of projections and descriptions can be easily thrown off by anything from a new coaching staff to a new growth spurt. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

weekend review

OK, I guess it's safe to panic and run around screaming now.  If the coaches and players are willing to admit publicly that the hitting is a concern, then I'm pretty sure the Fan Constitution allows us to go completely apeshit.  I'm sure that's in there somewhere.  Let's commence.

Or maybe there's a corollary that says when you're the #1 team in the country, you don't get to complain.  I like that better, in fact.  But it's still likely going to be necessary to color our perceptions for a while; in fact, I believe I got a head start on that in predicting a 2-1 series win over UNC instead of a sweep, though I did think Sunday would be much less of an issue.

Brian O'Connor bemoaned lost opportunities on Sunday, such as failing to score with runners at the corners in the first inning.  Without a healthy dose of moxie from Josh Sborz, he might've been doing the same on Saturday; you probably lose 19 out of 20 games where you get outhit 10-3.  Sborz wasn't stingy in giving out hits, as every Tar Heel in the lineup got one off him.  But you talk about scattering hits, and Sborz laid them out almost perfectly so as to escape nearly unscathed..... and then Connor Jones and Nick Howard slammed the door.

It goes to show the value of a good bullpen.  That's something that fans never think about until it blows enough leads.  Well, consider it thought.  Sborz did a nice job wiggling out of his jams, but life is much easier when you don't create any in the first place.  Combine all this with Friday's performance from Nathan Kirby, who outdueled UNC's Trent Thornton by fanning 12 hitters and, most importantly and unlike Thornton, not giving up any home runs ... and you have another virtuoso weekend from the moundsmen.

Perhaps one of these days the batsmen will follow suit.  The Hoos won two games mainly on the strength of two mistake pitches from the Carolina starters; a flat Thornton fastball that ended up who knows where and a hanging curve from Moss that snuck over the fence in just about the same place.  The fun part, though, is this: UVA is the near-consensus #1 team in the country and the #120 team in batting average.  Who's going to stop UVA if the pitching stays just as good and the bats fire up?

More baseball in brief:

-- Notre Dame did UVA a big favor yesterday by beating Miami.  If it happens again I'd be awfully surprised, but for now the best Miami can do is keep the tie.  It gets harder for the Canes next week as they visit Clemson, but UVA has Florida State so it's not like it's any easier for us.

-- The reason UVA is only near-consensus as #1 is because Collegiate Baseball is of the strange opinion that Cal Poly's sweep of Cal State-Fullerton (that's "18-16 Cal State-Fullerton" to you) is more impressive than whatever UVA did.  Their previous #1, Louisiana-Lafayette, didn't sweep whatever Sun Belt cupcake they had this week, so they fell to 3rd and UVA stayed at 2nd.  Everyone else puts the Hoos up top.

-- Derek Fisher is back!  That's excellent because he was hitting .333 before he went down.  The guy who moved into the lineup on the regular when that happened, stayed in - that'd be John LaPrise, since he's also hitting over .300.

-- Florida State next week - by far the biggest three games of the remaining regular season.


-- I opted to watch baseball over lacrosse on Saturday; they were at the same time, which is always a conundrum, and I figured I'd better get my chance to watch a halfway decent production of baseball for once.  The box score says everything I probably would've said anyway, though.  Namely, Ryan Lukacovic still should not be losing minutes to Owen Van Arsdale (1 goal, 1 assist, 1 turnover against goose eggs, 2 TOs, and a penalty... hm.)  I'm not gonna lie, when the program announced the hiring of Dom's son as an assistant coach, "Mike Groh" was one of the initial thoughts that popped into my head.  Now, Marc Van Arsdale has been a productive offensive coordinator in his time, and OVA has 24 assists so he's definitely had his moments too... but will Dad have the stones to bench his son if he continues to be outplayed?

-- I'm getting awfully fed up with Cavaliers Live.  I'm not the only one.  This was a much better production two, three years ago.  I'm not really jonesing for HD coverage, because I'm mindful that simply being able to watch UVA baseball (and lax, and soccer, and stuff) is a major upgrade from the inaccessibility of past years.  Give it time.  But I'm also mindful that I'm paying far more than I am for any cable channel and getting the most amateurish production imaginable. 

The scorebug looks like it was created by the freshman TV class at the local high school, has less than the bare minimum of useful info, and is sometimes not updated for a full inning, leaving the impression that the visitors are batting in the bottom half.  You've got the patented Earthquake-o-Vision from the third-base camera - surely it can be set up anywhere else, because I assume what's happening is that fans are moving around and rattling the stand.  Cutting from the side view to the plate view in the middle of the pitch is incredibly disconcerting and would probably get a producer fired at a real cable station.  (According to the explanation from the VSTV folks, we can't have a center field view because the coaches don't want the signs broadcasted, and therefore at risk of being stolen.  Fine.  You still can't see them from behind the plate, and you can still have the guy hitting the button for the switch learn when pitchers are ready to throw, and not wait for the middle of the windup.)

Then of course we have the cardinal sin: chopping off the end of games.  It happened during the Loyola game in lacrosse; I suspect because the feed was coming in slower than live, so that when the game ended, fans were watching the middle of the fourth quarter but the production people just shut off the feed and went home.  This weekend the feed just cut off before the end of the game.  If those were the only two times I'd be surprised, but they're the two I remember.  The first time, they promised that, "The error will be corrected to ensure the Cavaliers Live viewing experience meets our production expectations for future webcasts."  Uh-huh.

There's one more home baseball series, after which that subscription is coming to a merciful end.  Whether I re-subscribe next year depends on the work they put in during the offseason to unfuck the presentation.

-- There are new uniforms in the world of ACC football.  Florida State's are fine, more or less, but Syracuse's are A) godawful, B) largely a copy of Boise State's, right down to the unnecessary Trendy Gray**, and C) living proof that college football players would "get hype" about playing in a pink tutu if it was brand new and you presented it with enough I'M-A-WARRIOR flair.  Make sure the CG models hold their arms out like their lats are the size of elephants.

**The gray is funny because Syracuse fans already got up in arms over Trendy Gray basketball jerseys a couple years back - remarkably, they didn't really like having their team look just like the one they considered their biggest Big East rival.  Georgetown's school colors are gray and blue.  Let's hope Trendy Maroon is never a thing.

-- It was announced today that UVA will play a basketball home-and-home with George Washington, which is just exactly the kind of team we should be scheduling home-and-home.  You can play 28 games, so, ACC teams get 10 non-conference ones, and a tournament of up to four can count as one.  In my ideal world no more than six of these 10 would be cupcakes.  The other four would be the yearly tournament, the B1G Challenge, and two teams from conferences like the SEC, A-10, Big East, etc.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

lacrosse bracketology

This week's bracketology, thusly:

There continues to be heartache in the vein of: "if we lose to UNC (that is, in the "showcase" game at the ACC tournament, in which "showcase" is branding-ese for "participation-ribbon") then we'll miss the NCAA."  I continue to make reassuring noises here.  Barring an incredible number of bid thieves, and even then not necessarily, UVA is essentially a lock to make the tourney in some fashion.  The Hoos will play UNC not for a bid, but for an outside shot at hosting duties.  Very outside.

Truth is, the eight at-large bids are basically sewed up, barring any disasters.  Of the bubble teams listed, only two of the "first four out" have even a remote chance of snagging an at-large bid: Princeton and Drexel.  And Princeton is locked out of the Ivy tournament; even should they tie Yale for the last spot, the Elis have the tiebreaking win.  Princeton has a game against Cornell remaining, and I'm not convinced that even a win will help them.  Drexel, in playing some teams down in the middle of the RPI rankings, is going to spin its wheels and little else.  And the Hoos beat Drexel.

So the only thing that can screw the pooch for UVA is an unfortunate but galactically remote combination of bad news in conference tournaments.  The Patriot, Ivy, CAA, and Big East tourneys present the only threat - the one-bid leagues in the play-in, plus the A-East, aren't a concern.  And in the case of the Ivy and BE, the victims of bid thieves would almost certainly be the teams in those conferences anyway - Yale and Denver.  Notre Dame is also precariously on the edge, and is behind UVA in line - so you do not want them advancing to the ACC final, because part of the combination of bad news would be the Irish securing an auto-bid.

Last week's results in important games:

Cornell 14, Brown 9: Cornell got past the Bears and moved up a spot as a result - and their doing so also helps float Hofstra to a surprising seeded slot.

Maryland 12, Notre Dame 8: Rematch next week in Philadelphia.  As much as I hate to say it, a Terp win would be a plus for UVA.

Harvard 9, Princeton 8: This probably just about puts an end to Princeton's tourney hopes; they can't play in the Ivy tournament and have dropped from a virtual tie for the last at-large spot to being a longish way out.

Ohio State 8, Air Force 6: Now if Fairfield will beat Ohio State next week, we might just get to find out what the deepest and darkest tiebreakers are in the world of ECAC tourney seeding.

This week's important games:

Patriot League tournament: The PL has a six-team affair, with Loyola and Army getting byes and the opening round games being Colgate/Bucknell and Lehigh/Navy.  None of these teams except Loyola are anywhere in the same area code as NCAA contention.  Loyola, however, has a very secure position in the tourney, so anyone besides them winning this thing would be a true bid thief, with the first likely victim being Yale.

ACC tournament: Duke vs. Syracuse and Maryland vs. Notre Dame.  The only rooting interest you have as far as UVA is concerned is for Maryland to knock off the Domers.  That would ensure UVA stays ahead of Notre Dame in the pecking order; in fact, it would force Notre Dame into a must-win situation the week after, as they will be 6-6 if they lose to Maryland.

Marquette at Denver: I include this only to point out the surprising fact that the Big East #1 seed is at stake here.  There's little chance of Denver losing it, but that should illustrate for you the sorry state of Big East lacrosse this year - that Marquette, in their second-ever season of competition, sits second out of seven in the league.

Hofstra at Penn State: PSU is still the Flop of the Year and nobody can take that away from them.  But this game has potential to let next week's bracketology illustrate the potential effect of a bid thief; by the rules I establish for myself, it's likely Drexel would snag the (temporary) autobid should Hofstra lose, and then we'd get to see what the bracket looked like with one team that doesn't belong.  For their own part, Hofstra actually has a pretty safe-looking bid.

Harvard at Yale: Harvard still isn't going to get an at-large, no matter what happens, but they can mess up Yale and they're as big a threat as anyone to win the Ivy tourney.

Princeton at Cornell: Obviously, if Princeton loses, it's game over; I'm not sure what to make of things if they win and Yale loses, but their problem is this is the only bullet left in their chamber, so any jump up into the field would likely be very temporary.

Virginia vs. North Carolina: Woo embarrassing "showcase."  Well, if we win I won't call it embarrassing, but still.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

series preview: North Carolina

Date/Time: Fri.-Sat., April 18-20; 6:00, 1:00, 1:00

TV: Cavaliers Live Friday and Sunday; RSN and ESPN3 on Saturday

Record against the Heels: 100-176-4

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over UNC (10-4. 5-8, 8-7); 5/16-5/18/13, Chapel Hill

Last game: UVA 11, W&M 2 (4/16); UNC 5, Elon 4 (4/16)

Last weekend:
UVA 2-1 over Clemson (3-2, 1-7, 1-0)
UNC 2-1 over WF (9-0, 4-3, 5-6)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #1; UNC UR
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #2; UNC UR
Perfect Game: UVA #1; UNC UR
Coaches: UVA #1; UNC ARV

Pitching probables:

LHP Nathan Kirby (7-1, 1.23) vs. RHP Trent Thornton (7-1, 1.50)

RHP Josh Sborz (3-2, 2.91) vs. RHP Benton Moss (2-1, 3.62)

LHP Brandon Waddell (5-1, 2.78) vs. RHP Zac Gallen (3-3, 4.99)

The Hoos are riding higher than they have all season, a near-consensus #1 in the rankings and sporting a shiny 14-4 record in conference play.  Normally that'd mean this was one of the biggest series in the country this week, but the Heels aren't holding up their end.  UNC's low point so far this season is probably a sweep at the hands of Duke, and they've also provided lowly Boston College with one of their three conference wins.

The pressure remains on UVA, though; despite the lofty rank, they're at risk of not even leading their division at the end of the week.  There'd be no shame in a 2-1 series win over UNC, even if they are struggling, but Miami hosts Notre Dame this week, and it'd be a shock if they didn't sweep the Irish.  Even with a good showing, UVA could be looking upwards in the Coastal, and very much needs to avoid giving away two games on the weekend.

UNC scouting report:

-- First base: Adrian Chacon (.264-1-8).  Let's start this off by saying, right off the bat, that UNC's lineup has been really fluid this year.  UNC coach Mike Fox has been letting things go for two to three weeks and then shuffling the batting order, and by that pattern UNC is due for another shuffle.  First base has been a place where the shuffle is most evident; three different players started here against Wake Forest, and UNC went through another stretch where they started four different players in five games.  Joe Dudek started the first 21 games, but his .218 batting average dissuaded Fox from giving him any further regular role.  Dudek is a lefty hitter while Chacon is a righty, so if Dudek plays it'll be on Saturday; otherwise, first base tends to be a place where UNC moves someone from another position for a game so as to get an outfielder off the bench or a DH some field time.  Chacon, for his part, will occupy one of the spots in the bottom third of the order, depending on who else plays.

-- Second base: Wood Myers (.307-0-17).  On the other hand, this is the picture of stability.  Myers is a freshman that the Heels really like; he handles himself well at second, and his lefty bat gives him the ability to turn some singles into doubles.  He's second on the team in doubles despite lacking any semblance of power - he's yet to hit a triple and probably will never homer.  Myers is one of two Heels that have started every game at the same position - their double-play combo is the only thing they've kept completely intact - and typically bats second.

-- Third base: Landon Lassiter (.266-0-11).  A freshman all-American last season with a BA of .358, Lassiter has definitely hit a sophomore slump this year.  Opening the season near the top of the lineup and spending a time as the leadoff hitter, Lassiter has been bumped to fifth in the order, but without the power hitting that often implies.  Despite a propitious drop in batting average and collecting only two extra-base hits out of 34, he has a keen eye and a knack for getting on base in general - he's collected 26 walks, second on the team, and leads the Heels with 9 HBP.  His slump may be attributable in part to his move to the field on an everyday basis, as he's started all but three games at third base after being primarily the DH last year.  It's been a rocky road; Lassiter has piled up 12 errors for a fielding percentage of .852.

-- Shortstop: Michael Russell (.338-3-25).  This junior and second-year starter at shortstop is undoubtedly the Heels' top offensive threat.  Russell is tough to pitch to; he hits the ball all over the field and draws plenty of walks, and once on base, is also the top base-stealer on the team, with a 10-for-11 success rate.  He spent most of the season batting third or fourth, as you'd expect of a hitter of his caliber, but lately has been in the leadoff spot.  I read this as a sign that Mike Fox is trying anything to stop the offense from sputtering, and figures he might as well maximize the appearances for his best hitter.

-- Left field: Parks Jordan (.257-0-15).  UNC definitely has its share of guys whose first name is really more of a last name.  Seems like more of a lacrosse phenomenon, but whatever.  Jordan is a left-handed hitting senior who's never been a major offensive threat but also never been terrible; his career average is .256.  He packs very little power and has a slugging average of just .286, a mere three points below Lassiter to claim the bottom spot among regulars.  Jordan is a high-quality fielder, however; he committed his first collegiate error just this season.

-- Center field: Skye Bolt (.250-1-17).  Like Lassiter, Bolt was a freshman sensation last year - probably more well-known than Lassiter due to a combination of his name and playing in the field - and has hit a sophomore wall this year.  Bolt is a speedy player, a good fielder, and his 27 walks and 14 strikeouts indicate a good batting eye - he's just not collecting base hits.  Nevertheless, he's been batting third lately and hits in the top of the lineup most games this year.

-- Right field: Tyler Ramirez (.311-1-17).  Despite having some of the top numbers on the team, Ramirez is one of the players more likely to be bumped from the lineup, and his typical spot in the order is 8th or 9th.  One wonders if the next lineup shuffle from UNC moves him nearer the top.  Zach Daly (.258-2-5), usually used in a pinch-hitting role, gets an occasional start here, as does the very light-hitting Adam Pate (.176-0-2), whose main role is as a pinch-runner.

-- Catcher: Korey Dunbar (.248-3-25).  Early in the season this job belonged to Adrian Chacon, but Dunbar took over two weeks in, and when Chacon eventually returned to the lineup it was at first base.  Dunbar doesn't get much rest, starting all but three games since then.  He doesn't hit for a great deal of contact and he strikes out a ton, and is generally a bottom-half hitter, but he does at least have a little pop in his bat when he does make contact.

-- Designated hitter: Tom Zengel (.329-4-25).  Fox has used this spot this year to get a variety of players some time in the lineup, but that's getting harder and harder to do since Zengel is basically the second-best hitter after Michael Russell.  He's having a big breakout year as a senior after not hitting much in his first two and sitting as a junior.  Lately he's been batting cleanup, an appropriate spot for the team slugging (.565) and HR (4) leader.

-- Pitching staff:

Friday: RHP Trent Thornton (7-1, 1.50).  Thornton is a high draft pick in the making, and his matchup with Nathan Kirby promises to be a must-watch.  He's got three plus pitches, maybe four depending on his slider, and started the season as Carolina's Saturday starter but didn't need much time to show he deserved the role of Friday ace.  His average outing lasts into the 8th inning.  His numbers are eerily similar to Kirby's, and he's only allowed three extra-base hits all year.

Saturday: RHP Benton Moss (2-1, 3.62).  A veteran workhorse in his third year in the starting rotation.  He's been consistent but not spectacular his whole career; his excellent freshman-year numbers are mainly built on weekday competition.  Moss has started twice against UVA in his career; in 2012 he earned a win and in 2013 a no-decision.  He was outdueled by Scott Silverstein last year but Carolina came away with the win when Kyle Crockett inexplicably melted down.

Sunday: RHP Zac Gallen (3-3, 4.99).  Gallen comes in as a very highly-rated freshman, with stuff that the scouts really liked, but has been very hittable this year so far.  That ERA is just a shade under 5, and he's allowing a BA of .288.

Bullpen: Carolina goes very deep in the bullpen, and should be able to match UVA stride for stride here.  RHP Chris McCue (0-0, 0.77) is a tough customer as the closer, with 7 saves in as many appearances.  UNC leans very hard on righty Reilly Hovis (5-1, 2.09), allowing a .196 batting average, and righties Spencer Trayner (2-2, 2.25) and Trevor Kelley (0-1, 2.40) are trusted options as well.  There aren't many lefties; if UNC wants one they'll turn to Zach Rice (1-2, 3.52), usually for only a batter or two.

Bottom line: Carolina has good pitching, as they tend to usually do, but they're frustrating their fans with poor performance at the plate.  Sound familiar?  The difference between us and them is we were bursting at the seams with options for the rotation and they've had trouble getting consistency from Gallen and have no other options they fully trust.  Also, this is a fairly young team; usually, the backbone of a good team is your junior class, but UNC has only five, and only Michael Russell is not a pitcher.  They have a couple seniors too, but the team is mostly underclassmen, and in too many cases for the sanity of UNC fans, highly underachieving sophomores.

Despite all that, UNC's lineup is outperforming UVA's on the stat sheet, so the advantage we might have is not great.  Friday promises to be a terrific battle between two terrific pitchers, and could easily be won 1-0 by either team.  UVA will have the advantage on the mound from then on, though Moss is a very capable pitcher and shouldn't be discounted.

Prediction: UVA 2-1.  The Hoos aren't batting well enough that they're likely to hit both Thornton and Moss hard enough to win.  Just like last week, Sunday should set up as a rubber match which UVA should then win.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

put the bagmen in charge

I swear I've had it up to here already.  I've come to the conclusion that something had to fill the void of conference realignment, and that something is college athlete compensation.  I figure it that way because I'm already damn sick of it and because so much stupidity gets tossed around with no critical thinking attached, and whatever comes out the back end of this sausage-making process is going to be much less desirable from a fan perspective than when we started.

My take on the whole thing can be summed up thusly: The status quo needs tweaking here and there but the model is otherwise just fine, and if a tiny percentage of Johnny Manziels are earning less than they're worth, it's not really a big deal because they're gonna get paid eventually and giving more money to them means taking money away from either fans or non-revenue athletes, probably both.  Forgive me if I don't feel sorry for a guy who can't sell his autograph but will make millions anyway and prefer to direct my concerns toward people who work just as hard for an opportunity that in all likelihood will be taken away or severely limited if the Johnny Manziels get their way.  You know this latter group better as swimmers, tennis players, wrestlers, and the like.

This places me basically on the side of the NCAA, which is run by some of the stupidest baboons that ever ran anything, ever.  Arguments on both sides of the coin have gotten uncontrollably moronic, in fact.  Shabazz Napier claiming he "goes to bed starving" is supposed to be taken as evidence that college athletes are the functional equivalent of Oliver Twist, and some people are thrilled to fall for it.  College athletes living off-campus receive a cost-of-living stipend which I've read is about $1,200 a month, which is why you so often see them living together; two of them pooling that money can rent a house that sleeps six or eight.  Napier is walking around with about two thousand dollars' worth of tattoos on his arms, most of which he's gotten while at UConn (compare these two pictures here and here) so if he can't afford food, it's because he and common sense money management have never been formally introduced.  Not because he's been exploited.

As obnoxious as Napier's claim is, it pales in comparison to Northwestern's appeal of the NLRB's CAPA ruling.  The money quote is:
Contrary to the Regional Director’s findings, Northwestern scholarship football student-athletes are not “initially sought out, recruited and ultimately granted scholarships because of their athletic prowess on the football field.”

This is a lie so brazen it defies all attempts at mockery, but I can try.  The people in charge of the system today are trying to convince us that football recruiting has nothing to do with football skill.  This is where we've come in this debate.  That's the strategy.  If they had been in charge of the German defenses at Omaha Beach they would've sent their entire army swimming into the ocean, figuring to try and clog the propellers of the landing ships.  And these are the people at the smart university.


On the heels of all this comes the well-known bagman article from SB Nation, which failed to surprise anyone because the fact that most SEC players are on the take is something people have taken for granted for a while now.  Not to impugn the SEC only, of course, it's just that they're the ones basically flaunting it.  Cheating?  Who cares?  Rowl dayum Tahd.  But I would guess there's at least one player on the take at 90% of BCS-level schools, and at least a few of the non-BCS ones as well.  If you removed all the schools with technically ineligible players from consideration for the national title, it might be contested between Washington State and Purdue.  Maybe.  Don't sit there and pretend UVA is 100% clean; chances are it ain't.

The fact is though, that nothing you can do will shut off that spigot.  People who do this, and there's a critical mass of them, have a different code of ethics from provincial little naifs in the Midwest who actually think rules matter.  SMU didn't get the death penalty because they paid their players.  They got the death penalty because they were told to stop paying their players and didn't - the reasoning being was that they'd made a promise to the current roster and thought it would be wrong to renege on it.  That sort of ethic is alive and well today.  Start up a sanctioned system of compensation and the bagman money will be totally unaffected.  And if the NCAA were to do its worst and death-penalize the SEC for being mud-pit dirty, the SEC would probably just leave and take half the NCAA with it.

So we have a growing clamor for athletes to get paid, dammit, or if not athletes necessarily, football and basketball players.  (I notice nobody's asked the swimmers and wrestlers what they think of the pay-the-poor-orphans movement, and the conspiracist in me, whom I don't let out very often, says that's because the media has a pay-the-poor-orphans agenda and is afraid to hear the answer.)  We have the same athletes operating basically with their hands out, expecting money on the side.  Adrian Peterson opined that college athletes should get paid, and Adrian Peterson went to Oklahoma where they definitely have had some problems with that side-action thing; Rhett Bomar got kicked off the team for being on the take, conveniently right while Peterson was playing there.  I would be blown away if Peterson was clean.  Absolutely flabbergasted, to be honest.

So the temptation is growing in me to give the gimme-gimme football players exactly what they want.  Legitimize the bagmen.  Open the faucet all the way. And to counterbalance it: ban athletic scholarships entirely.  Let's consider how a system like this might work:

-- Players in any sport would be allowed to take any amount of money they can get their hands on, for any reason.  No more burn phones, or silly (and kind of narcissistic, in a look-at-me-I'm-a-secret-agent kind of way) code language, or shady cash drops.  Just write the check; nobody cares anymore.  Your pay is between you and the boosters now.  The key is there can't be any limitations, because the first one, no matter how small, will drive the money back underground.

-- They would also be entirely responsible for paying their own tuition, and allowed to receive no financial aid of any kind from the school.  Schools would have to submit their rosters to the NCAA along with proof of the financial remittance from each player, and the rolls of their financial aid recipients to prove that no athlete is on it.  Scholarship limits would be replaced by simple roster limits.  You can have 17 players on your basketball team, 100 on your football team, etc.  No more than 35 players may appear on your team that weren't there last year, covering both transfers and recruiting.  That kind of thing.

Complications, of course, would arise:

-- What about players that can't pay their way but can't attract enough financial support from the boosters?  A lot of these guys ain't exactly from 90210.  Student loans, man.  Student loans.  Like the rest of us.  Harsh, maybe, but more on this in a bit.

-- Isn't it really bad to just turn the competition into a game of who has the richest boosters?  Kinda; there would be some mitigating factors, though.  One, if everyone's paying, the field gets a lot more level.  Two, roster limits will help.  Three, I've always thought of this as the Pickens Problem.  T. Boone Pickens donated $165 million to Oklahoma State to turn their athletic facilities into exotic pleasure palaces.  That kind of money would pay a full 85-man football roster a six-figure salary for almost 20 years.  However, if tuition is like $40,000 a year, which it tends to be these days, it puts a major dent in the pay.

-- Won't they just pocket the money and take out the student loan too?  Yes.  Some of them are kind of dumb like that.  So?

-- There is no way swimmers and wrestlers will get any of this free cash; they will all be on student loans.  First of all, I'm not so sure of that; the best of them will still attract some money, and the better programs, who like being that way, such as Stanford, will have donors who earmark money for the swim teams and the tennis teams and such.  I figure that once this system is in place, any school that doesn't have a VAF-like organization will quickly have one, which will be in charge of negotiating pay, and quite a lot of the athletes' money will funnel through that.  So donors will specify a sport just as they do now.  Second, a lot of them pay their way now anyway.  Scholarships are really tight in these sports and it's rare to find full rides in the non-revs.

-- If scholarships go away, athletes in sports like soccer and hockey, tennis and golf, will be induced to go pro sooner without the lure of a free education.  I think this effect will be negligible and balanced out by the ability to sweeten the pot to compete with the pros.  These guys go pro when it suits them to anyway; they aren't in college for the education necessarily, just to develop until someone is ready to pay them or they're good enough to fend for themselves on a pro tour.

Now, then: most of the money that goes into the NCAA and the schools these days goes toward scholarships.  TV revenue and ticket revenue isn't going away.  So what to do with this sudden windfall that isn't paying for scholarships any more?  This is the fun part.  I don't know if all these ideas could be funded at once, but maybe.

-- First, some of it can go to a fund that essentially becomes a scholarship fund.  Athletes who took out a student loan, and earned a degree, could apply to the NCAA (yes, it would be centrally located and not with the schools) with their loan documentation, and get a check that covers the cost of it, or some significant portion thereof, or at the least a subsidized, interest-free loan.  Rules would be set up whereby athletes on pro rosters, or signing a pro contract, or drafted in a professional league, or some combination the details of which could easily be hashed out, would be ineligible.  This would essentially prevent the best and richest college athletes from also getting the free ride as well.  They got theirs.

-- Finally hire and pay some real referees.  Not this private-contractor business.  The freed-up money could be used to train them, pay them, and basically employ them full-time.

-- Facility improvements; schools that find themselves with freed-up money always have projects they want to do.

-- Sport expansion.  The primary expense of fielding a sport is its scholarships.  Freed from having to care about that, there would be money for a lot more offerings.

-- Media expansion.  Wouldn't it be nice if Cavaliers Live were a really slick operation instead of the budget-limited, facility-limited thing we have today?

-- Cut ticket prices and get more people in the stadiums.  I know, I know - just a crazy, lunatic idea on my part.  I shouldn't even bother with something so unrealistic even in this most unrealistic of proposals.

This is just spitballing ideas.  I'm sure some ADs can think of some way to spend a few million a year they didn't have before.  Much of the money we're talking about is just re-juggled instead of freed up.  The NCAA would keep a lot of the money it now sends to schools.  The VAF would merely redirect a lot of the money it now gives the department.  Scholarship funding is heavily crowdsourced anyway.  So this isn't going to give the schools a massive windfall.

I'm not sure this would be better, in the big picture, for athletes.  Big-money athletes would get theirs and have no room to complain anymore.  Most of the rest have a pretty good deal, though, and such a new system would disrupt that.  It's not better for competition; there would be mitigating effects, as I mentioned, but you'd certainly also have Phil Knight purchasing the best team money can buy.  It would improve the budget situation for athletic departments, but not by a huge amount.  On one level this is less a serious proposal and more kind of a thought exercise to provoke a consideration of the true effects of throwing the system open to the free market.  (With a dash of spite, in two flavors.  One: you want this golden goose, you got it, but you can't have this one anymore.  And two, you bagmen think you're such hot shit with the team you've bought, so if you've got so much money you can go pay for the whole thing.)  This unionization stuff is supported by a "free market" interpretation of what football players are worth, but a bastardized free market system is all we'd get and it isn't necessarily the best for college athletics.  In a way it's what exists now, but with much of the money underground.  Nobody but the bagmen thinks this is a good idea.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

basketball season in review, 2

Continuing the series begun last week.

#12 - Joe Harris - Sr. SF

This season: As predicted, Harris's raw numbers went down this year.  He scored less and rebounded less, and played fewer minutes too.  And as predicted, this was a good sign; it meant more reliance on a larger number of teammates.  Spread things out and it can only be a good thing.

Harris's shooting percentages were down across the board, too, though in the case of his three-point percentage, nobody would ever complain about a 40% success rate there.  People did wonder what happened to his free-throw shooting, as a normally extremely reliable shooter from the stripe suddenly seemed to brick way more than his share.  Despite that, his KenPom O-rating actually went up - most likely the result of reaching a career high for assist rate and a career low for turnover rate.  (Besides, if he'd shot .740 instead of .640 from the line, it would've meant less than one more make every three games.)

Even though Harris passed the end-of-game heroics torch, I think it's clear whose team this was.  Every year a basketball team finds a new identity; this year, it was easy to see Harris's fingerprints.  His ability to do just about anything well, nothing notably spectacular, and score in whatever way was necessary and expedient, that was essentially the whole offense in a nutshell, and the versatility Tony wants out of his guards.  He was just as likely to be setting a screen as running off of one, and you get the impression it never occurred to him to think it wasn't his job to screen for someone else.

We would also be remiss if we failed to remember that it was Harris's visit to Tony Bennett that instigated the famous turnaround.  Would Tony have made the changes on offense that he did, if Harris hadn't done that?  Who knows.  It's not worth the speculation.  Tony got the leadership he wanted out of his senior class, responded positively, and the rest is banners.

For his career, Harris finished with 1,698 points, good for 11th on UVA's all-time list, below Curtis Staples and above J.R. Reynolds.  Tremendous company.  No doubt exists in anyone's mind that between that and the trophies he brought home, the pantheon of UVA all-time greats added a new name this year, and his name is Joey Hoops.

Next season: Obviously, we will follow his professional career with great interest, though the NBA is a fringe possibility at best.  Chad Ford has him 99th out of 100 on that board of his.  UVA will definitely miss his scoring and leadership, but if the culture that we think exists, actually exists, someone will fill the void.  As long as we can find someone to shoot threes as good as he does.

#13 - Anthony Gill - So. PF

This season: We were promised that Tony had really dug up a gem in the South Carolina transfer, and I for one am not disappointed.  Gill brought a powerful scoring punch to the frontcourt, and coming off the bench, often found himself guarded by someone who was totally incapable of the task.

His favorite weapon was the face-up drive from the elbow; probably three-quarters of the guys guarding him couldn't stop that move.  Gill drew a ton of fouls this way; despite playing fewer than half the available minutes, he led the team in free-throw attempts, and with a .627 percentage from the line, wasn't stellar in converting them but was good enough to make it work.  (And he hit two of the year's absolutely hugest free throws, calmly knocking down both ends of a 1-and-1 against Pitt to turn a 1-point lead into a 3-point lead.  Justin Anderson's block finished off the win, but Gill's shooting set the scene.)

Gill was also a feisty offensive rebounder, and got more comfortable (and aggressive) on defense as the season went on.  He was credited with 20 blocks this season, 16 of which came after the Tennessee game and fully half of which came in ACC and NCAA tournament play plus the season-ending Maryland game.

Next season: Chances are very good that Gill makes the move to the starting lineup next year, and how he handles that transition is one of the biggest questions to be answered.  That's a twofold issue; the first part is, how will his offensive game evolve and will it continue to be as effective when always going against the other team's best?  The second is on defense, and how well he continues to absorb Tony's system.  That's still a work in progress, as there were occasions this year where you could catch him out of place.  In only his second year learning the ropes, that's not exactly a strike against him, but there'll be an expectation that he continues to eliminate those mistakes.  As already pointed out, that progress was on display even as the season continued, so there's no reason at all for pessimism.

And by the way, as Gill shot 39% on the occasional three-pointer while at South Carolina, it just might be that we should be on the lookout for Tony to let him incorporate that into his game too.  We'll see.

#15 - Malcolm Brogdon - So. SG

This season: Coming off a redshirt year induced by a stubborn foot injury, I fretted that that kind of injury could turn into a chronic thing, and I don't think anyone really knew for sure if his foot would hold up to a full season of 30-minute-a-game pounding.  At least, anyone outside the team.  Brogdon didn't play like he was exactly worried and Tony didn't play him like he was, either.

Obviously, it held up and nobody even thought about it after December.  After a freshman year as a complementary scorer, taking a backseat role to Jontel Evans and Sammy Zeglinski - one in which he frankly turned the ball over too much - Brogdon burst back onto the scene as a new man and the Hoos' leading scorer.

Thanks to London Perrantes, Brogdon wasn't asked to be the primary ballhandler (though he did still continue to act as point guard at times), and could focus his efforts on the basket.  In ACC play and beyond he averaged 14.5 points a game, drilled any number of huge shots, and even occasionally put in an appearance on KenPom's top ten players in the country, showing up as high as #8.  He was an indispensable end-game player, as a near-automatic free-throw shooter, and his size and UVA's penchant for forcing outside shots allowed him to become a prolific rebounder for a guard.  Combine that with a flip-flopping of his assists and turnovers, and you have the profile of a new Top Dog for this team going forward.

Next season: There'll be only one senior, and he's almost certain to come off the bench, which means this is Brogdon's team now, and all that entails.  Doesn't get any simpler, or more complex, than that.

#23 - London Perrantes - Fr. PG

This season: On one of the message boards early this year, I don't even remember which one, someone posted that they loved that Perrantes had #23 because it meant he had guts and swag, picking Michael Jordan's number and all.  I wasn't particularly big on that idea, and still am not.  It's his play that earned the Cali Swag label.

Actually, "swag" is not how I'd describe it; Perrantes was simply cool and unflappable and brought a surprising innate basketball sense to the court.  So often with point guards, what they're doing right isn't really quantifiable, but you know it when you see it.  With Perrantes, it didn't take long to become clear that he was doing things right.

Perrantes started most games in the non-conference, but not the Tennessee game; he was put back in the starting lineup for the ACC slate, and a couple weeks later when he delivered a season-high 9 assists against UNC (and only one turnover) we were all wondering why he'd ever been out of the starting five.  But the real turning point of his season might've been the Virginia Tech game in Cassell Coliseum.  There, with UVA in real danger of being upset, Perrantes hit more three pointers (three) than he'd hit in the past seven games combined, and all at crucial junctures.  The rest of the season, that game inclusive, he was an incredible 24-for-39 from beyond the arc.  That's 61.5%.

With actual scoring - 8.7 ppg during that stretch - coming from the point guard position, UVA's offense was suddenly extremely hard to stop, and the O-rating started taking leaps and bounds every time out.  The offense was KenPom's 50th in the country going into that VT game, and 20th going into the final game of the year.  By that time, people were having second thoughts about whether Tyler Ennis really was the conference's best freshman point guard.

Next season: Perrantes has grabbed the starting PG job with a vengeance and probably won't let go til those pesky NCAA eligibility rules make him.  Expect him to be more assertive for his own shot next year, and expect that not to hurt his distributive skills one bit.

#25 - Akil Mitchell - Sr. PF

This season: Mitchell did a lot of things for the team.  He rebounded at a near-elite level, midseason he rediscovered his baby hook that worked so well for him last year, and he brought a fiery attitude to the court that was second only to Justin Anderson's.  (We won't mention the sometimes facepalm-inducing free-throws.)

Mitchell's real value, though: his picture-perfect understanding of Tony Bennett's defense.  It's so damn hard sometimes to find someone with such a combination of athleticism and court sense.  Mitchell was never, and I mean never, out of position.  He hedged on ball screens higher and harder than anyone and never fouled in the process.  He could take a ballhander practically over and back doing that and still recover to the paint in time.  He could double-team and recover in a flash, because while some guys have their shooting stroke committed to muscle memory, Mitchell had his defensive positioning there instead.

Not bad for a guy who was considered the biggest project of the whole six-man class.  Arguably, the defensive contributions Mitchell brought will be much harder to replace than Joe Harris.  Scoring is something a lot of people can do; exquisite defense is rarer.  It's also less memorable in the mind of the public at large, but if you named an all-defensive team from the annals of all UVA history, it's not complete without Mitchell.

Next season: Same as Harris, we wish only the very best in a possible (and almost certainly overseas) pro career.

#30 - Thomas Rogers - Sr. SG

This season: So I don't usually include the walk-ons in the picture, but Thomas Rogers provided the single best moment of the season by nailing a three to put the perfect cap on the Syracuse game.  This team won two different ACC titles and earned a #1 seed and was on the winning end of more than one big nailbiter and they were never so excited as when that three found the bottom without even stopping for the rim.  It proved that when they talked in interviews about winning for each other, there wasn't a fiber of canned cliche to it.

Next season: Has a UVA degree, and therefore is set for life.

#32 - Darion Atkins - Jr. PF

This season: Coming off of severe shin splints which derailed his sophomore year, Atkins unfortunately found himself in a no-man's land.  Not as good a defender as Mitchell nor as good a scorer as Gill, nor as big as Mike Tobey, Atkins appeared in every game but got pushed to the back of the rotation.  When in the game, at times there were flashes of the Atkins that started last season and was a terrifying force when paired with Mitchell.  But only flashes.

Next season: Mitchell leaves behind 26 minutes a game that need to be filled, and I don't picture Tobey and Gill picking up more than six each.  Even with two frontcourt freshmen coming into the picture, it'd be awfully surprising to see Atkins not add to the 10 minutes a game he got this year.  Some consider him a ripe candidate to transfer and play one season elsewhere, but he hasn't graduated (to my knowledge) and it would be somewhat surprising to see him sit for a year to play for a year.  (Part of the reason people think "transfer" is because Atkins never looks all that into the game, but his bored facial expression is just... that's just how he looks all the time.  When he goes flying to block a shot, which he does often enough, questioning his into-it-ness is a lot harder.)  Besides, the fact that Teven Jones announced his transfer means Tony has already had the "honest talk" with his team over their seasons and their anticipated roles.

So Atkins probably boosts his minutes to the 13-16 range.  Substantially more scoring out of him is not likely, but he'll be asked to haul in more rebounds, maybe even double his per-game total there.  He may have to fight off the newcomers Wilkins and Salt to be the first big off the bench, but he's got an obvious head start in the defensive system, which makes a big difference.


This concludes our look at the team itself.  Once the early entries to the NBA draft are all sorted out, then I can write something semi-coherent about an early look at next year's ACC.

Monday, April 14, 2014

weekend review

Woo-hoo, I partook in the annual ritual of watching the no-defense festival that is the annual loss to Duke on the lacrosse field.  Well, I take it back somewhat: not every game against them is completely without defense.  We never play it, but sometimes Duke does.  Sometimes we lose by a lot and sometimes by a little, but one thing is usually a given: Duke will wear out the netting, usually around 15 times.  The last time there was a low-scoring affair against those guys: 2007, a 7-6 loss for us.

This happened to be one of those days where UVA could keep pace somewhat.  UVA has been in the game in every one of its losses but the Notre Dame one; even more interesting, we've been able to play any kind of game the opponent wants.  Defensive slugfest?  Sure.  Shootout?  Sure.  And therein, I think, lies part of the problem.  When have we seen UVA impose its will on the other team?  Only in games against much lesser opposition, and even then you saw problems against Rutgers and Richmond, to name a few.

Goalie play took a dump, of course, which didn't help.  I was surprised to see that Duke's Luke Aaron failed to reach a .500 save percentage, because it seemed like he was saving basically everything, which may have been only in comparison to our own goalies, who saved nothing.  That's "goalies" because Matt Barrett got yanked for Dan Marino, who was just as bad.

I'm not prepared to guarantee UVA will make the NCAA tournament because I'm not prepared to guarantee this team can beat Bellarmine; they absolutely should and I think they will, but the flaws are such that you just never know.  How often do they look like they know what they're doing?  I'd say, not much.  The offense doesn't know whether to be patient or to run'n'shoot; the defense doesn't know whether to sit back or be aggressive, and they try all of them at various times and don't get consistent results.  The coaches have tried all they can think of to win faceoffs and have resorted to an apparently random pattern of choosing the ineffective short stick or the ineffective long stick.  Likewise they can't decide who should run the offense from the X; they don't seem to have confidence in either Owen van Arsdale or Ryan Lukacovic, and have equally inconsistent substitution patterns there as well, to say nothing of the midfield.  The whole operation stinks of throwing crap against the wall just to see what sticks.

I don't think this season is a total loss.  Any time you beat Hopkins and Syracuse you've succeeded at a portion of the goals that UVA lacrosse sets out to accomplish.  Then again, any time you lose to Maryland, UNC, and Duke, and get to mid-April not 100% sure about making the NCAA tournament, not to mention not even playing in the ACC one, you've fallen short of quite a few others.  The atmosphere around the program is starting to look like the one around Debbie Ryan's hoops program a couple years before her resignation.  When a respected Sabre poster lets loose on the coaching staff and program with cannons blazing like this and this, and is not told out of hand to stuff it, you can tell the cracks are appearing.

I link those epistles for you, and even find them well-reasoned, but I don't (yet) fully endorse them.  I'm painfully aware this is the worst two-year stretch for UVA lacrosse in quite some time, but I'm also painfully aware of what happens when fans let expectations run too wild, revolt, and accelerate the downward spiral.  Tennessee boosters pitched Phil Fulmer overboard because they were tired of Outback Bowl seasons and he had the audacity to go 5-7 that one time, and in the five years since they've won 7, 6, 5, 5, and 5 games.  People around here got tired of Debbie Ryan because we didn't win enough in the ACC and didn't go far enough in the NCAAs, and Joanne Boyle has only managed to spin her wheels at best.  Is Dom Starsia getting lazy at recruiting and allowing the program to get bogged down in the mud?  Maybe.  Are we capable of screwing this up by running him off and spending six winless years in the ACC?  More than.


-- It's amazing how a shutout can feel like anything but a dominant pitching performance.  Brandon Waddell combined with Whit Mayberry and Nick Howard to hold Clemson entirely scoreless on Sunday and take the series, and yet it sure had none of the feeling of the same result a week prior.  Waddell was dominant against Pitt, and forever walking the edge against Clemson.  Much better team this week, yes.  And honestly, a pitching coach will be at least as happy, if not happier, to see his charges battle back against multiple basepath incursions, than to see them breeze through with little trouble.  The Pitt shutout showed a lot of ability; the Clemson shutout showed ability and character.

Miami managed to sweep the same Pitt team that we took only two of three from, however, and thus UVA finds itself tied atop the division.  This means less than it did last year, though, now that the ACC tournament has moved away from pool play and to a basic double-elimination format.  The 1 and 2 seeds used to get their choice of game times, and that mattered much more then.

-- If this doesn't impress you or do anything for you at all, you're in the wrong place.  How about the ACC all-sport record for most consecutive conference wins?  Men's tennis brought that distinction to UVA by winning its 117th straight conference match - counting both regular season and tournament play, meaning, NCAA tournament as well.  117 straight wins against ACC foes, no matter when or where the competition.  That's a mark that, if it's ever topped by anyone, will take a good ten years to achieve, minimum.  (Though I haven't checked to see if anyone anywhere is working on a streak of like 70 or so right now, which is possible but not real likely.)

-- I wouldn't have bothered watching the spring football game even if it had been on, honestly.  It just doesn't excite me; for one, because the affair is never a real game; two, because you can never really tell whether one side's dominance is a good thing or a bad thing and therefore the thing is not all that instructive; three, because 2-10.  (#1 is that way because coaches are always concerned about injuries and depth - there's no way we could've put together two full teams' worth of O-linemen - but it's also easily fixed such that my attention could be restored.  Play a full speed 7-on-7 game.  Problem solved.  Injury risk is minimized and fans get something to watch.)

However, Jeff White's article answered the one question we all want to know, even if Mike London is still playing coy.  Greyson Lambert, besides being voted a team captain, threw 31 passes while Matt Johns threw 19 and David Watford just 14.  I leave you to draw your own conclusion, with every confidence you'll decide the same as I did.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

lacrosse bracketology


Getting right down to brass tacks, I think it's very unlikely UVA misses the tournament.  We aren't in great shape, but wins over Loyola, Hopkins, and fast-rising Syracuse make for a fairly secure bid - even though my system has us sitting precariously close to the bubble.

I'm also thinking that it's unlikely we host a first-round game.  Denver and Cornell, the last hosts in this week's edition, are pretty far up there.  Cornell is kind of in free-fall at the moment, working on a three-game losing streak, but Loyola would be first in line to host, I'm thinking, if one of the top eight falls.

Here's where we round it back to good news: So many ACC teams are in line for hosting duties that the options for our destination are fairly limited.  The committee will create rematches if they have to, so they're not averse to making us play Cornell or Hopkins, but the ACC is a real conference now in their eyes and therefore immune to playing each other in the first round.  Right now two of the six seeds 3-8 are ACC teams, so there's only four places we can go, and it'll likely stay that way - unless it becomes three of six.

The last spot is interesting right now.  The math gives Princeton a slight edge over Yale, and in looking at common opponents both are 3-1 (both beat Lehigh and Dartmouth; Yale beat Brown and lost to Penn while Princeton did the opposite.)  Princeton has the SOS while Yale has the RPI, and Princeton has a slightly stronger full slate of wins.  Hofstra is turning into a big win for them, while Yale lacks a strong OOC win (the Flying Dutchmen are in on autobid this week but also reasonably comfortable in at-large consideration.)  So I'm not strongly attached to Yale over the Tigers right now; that said, Yale did actually beat Princeton, which is a healthy tiebreaker.

The gap between them and Fairfield, though, is wide; this is partly why I say UVA is in good shape for a bid.  There aren't many threats to pull the rug out from underneath.

Last week's games to watch:

Syracuse 14, Cornell 9: The Cuse had just a monster week.  Cornell had a rotten one.

Duke 17, Virginia 15: It's interesting - except for Notre Dame, which was just inexplicable, the Hoos haven't been out of any of their games this year.

Yale 7, Brown 6: The second tier of the Ivy League came really close to turning the whole league upside down.

Air Force 16, Fairfield 8: The thin air must've gotten to them.  Whatever the reason, Fairfield really hosed themselves good.  Not only did they essentially guarantee that they need the autobid now, the ECAC tournament is going to have three basically even teams and one bad one - and Fairfield blew their chance to play the bad one.

Hofstra 10, Cornell 9: This is what I mean about a bad week.  Also, this game made it close to impossible to avoid rematches in this week's edition, and as you can tell, I didn't much try.  Hofstra is now in remarkably good shape.

Penn 8, Harvard 7: See Yale-Brown.  Both games went to OT.

Johns Hopkins 11, Maryland 6: Quite a surprise, I thought, but hey: Cuse and Hopkins scoring upsets is nothing but good for UVA.

Syracuse 11, North Carolina 10: Big week for the Orange continues.  They now have the top RPI in the country and are closing to shooting distance of the #1 seed.  Duke still has a nice tight grip, but it's not unassailable.  There is one big problem for the Orange, though...

This week's games that matter:

Brown at Cornell: What can Brown do to you?  The Bears are no more a threat to win an at-large bit than VMI is, but they're why Princeton isn't in the field right now and they've come close to torpedoing a few other teams too.  With Cornell on a big losing streak, it could be interesting.

Maryland at Notre Dame: The ACC field is set and Notre Dame is in.  (That big problem for Syracuse?  They're 0-2 against UNC and ND, which means they lose any tiebreaker that this game creates, and out of the ACC tournament.  Edit: As pointed out in the comments, I'm dumb; somehow I thought Cuse when I was looking at UNC's page, and vice versa.  UNC is the one that's 0-2 against the others.)  And if they win, their reward is Maryland one more time.  (If the Domers win, they'll play Duke and Maryland will play UNC Cuse.)

Princeton at Harvard: Probably a must-win for Princeton in order to stay in contention; they can't afford to miss the Ivy tournament and they probably will if they lose this one.

Air Force at Ohio State: The ECAC is setting up to be a fun ride.  If Air Force wins here they'll have a very, very inside track to the championship, because they'll get Michigan in the first round of the conference tournament, while Fairfield and OSU battle it out.  If Air Force loses, it opens the door to a potential triangle of doom, which would require goal differential to untangle.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

series preview: Clemson

Date/Time: Fri.-Sun., April 11-13; 6:00, 2:30, 1:00

TV: Cavaliers Live on Saturday and Sunday

Record against the Tigers: 51-102

Last meeting: UVA 2-1 over Clemson (6-5, 6-7, 8-5); 3/15-3/17/13, Clemson

Last game: UVA 9, JMU 3 (4/8); UGA 6, CU 2 (4/8)

Last weekend:
UVA 2-1 over Pitt (4-0, 1-2, 3-0)
NCSt. 2-1 over CU (6-1, 4-9, 1-7)

National rankings:

Baseball America: UVA #2; CU #14
Collegiate Baseball: UVA #3; CU #22
NCBWA: UVA #1; CU #13
Perfect Game: UVA #2; CU #15
Coaches: UVA #2; CU #14

Pitching probables:

LHP Nathan Kirby (6-1, 1.03) vs. LHP Matthew Crownover (6-2, 2.23)

RHP Josh Sborz (3-1, 2.63) vs. RHP Daniel Gossett** (3-0, 2.25)

LHP Brandon Waddell (4-1, 3.14) vs. RHP Jake Long** (2-0, 4.06)

**NOTE: Clemson hasn't announced their starters for Saturday and Sunday.  While their coach Jack Leggett can be prickly this way sometimes, Gossett and Long have been injured, shoulder and back respectively, and there's legitimate uncertainty as to whether they'll be available.

The second, and much tougher, half of the ACC slate begins this weekend.  Rarely does Clemson not pose a challenge, and they've played in every ACC tournament since its inception.  Brian O'Connor, however, has only ever lost one series to them while at UVA - that in his first season - and only 5 of 25 games since then.

The pressure remains on from below, however; Miami gained a game on UVA last week, no thanks to the Hokies, who successfully blew a 7-2 lead on the Canes on Friday and rolled over the next two days for the Miami sweep.  UVA has work to do to hold off Miami, if the Hoos want a top-two seed in the ACC tourney, and can't let up even with a tougher schedule than that of the Canes.

Scouting report:

-- First base: Shane Kennedy (.222-1-7). Tore his ACL five months ago and raced through rehab to return a few weeks ago against Florida State.  Had a very good season last year (his first with Clemson after transferring from the juco ranks) with an excellent combination of speed, power, and average, resulting in a selection to the ACC second team.  Off to a slow start this year, however.  Right handed hitter usually batting seventh.  Jon McGibbon had been playing the position in Kennedy's absence, but is hitting only .140 on the year.

-- Second base: Steve Wilkerson (.347-4-18).  Switch-hitter who is Clemson's top hitter for both power and average this year.  Team leader in BA, OBP, SLG, HR, and 2B.  Bats sixth for whatever reason, even after the lineup shakeup that Jack Leggett installed against Georgia this week, which was the first change of any kind in the order in 11 games.  Superstition maybe, I dunno.  Wilkerson is a senior and a two-time second-team ACC selection and a tough out, but not a great fielder.

-- Third base: Weston Wilson (.321-2-19). Righty freshman who has forced his way into the lineup and been hard to keep out of it, impressing with both bat and glove.  Leggett has used junior Jay Baum here at times (Baum is never out of the lineup) but not since March 19.  Wilson generally bats ninth.

-- Shortstop: Tyler Krieger (.309-1-19).  Has started every game here, and been slotted second in the lineup in all but one, moving to third this week against Georgia.  Had a .958 fielding percentage last year as a freshman but is tremendously error-prone this year, dropping his FP to .876.

-- Left field: Jay Baum (.313-0-16).  Baum has started every game, nine at third base and the rest in LF.  When Baum plays third, Andrew Cox (.167-0-1) or Mike Triller (.318-0-1) takes over in left.  Both are left-handed batters while Baum is a righty.  Given latest results, Triller would seem the likely choice if Baum moves to the infield at any point.  Baum was a career .224 hitter entering the year but has improved mightily this year, although his power is strictly in gap shots - he's never hit a home run.  He hit at the bottom of the lineup most of the year, 7th or 8th, but moved to 2nd against UGA.

-- Center field: Tyler Slaton (.328-2-19).  The only Clemson player who has played the same position and batted in the same spot for all 32 games: leadoff.  Diminutive lefty with impeccable fielding record.

-- Right field: Steven Duggar (.320-0-23).  Also has started every game here, due to his arm.  Major base-stealing threat with approximately one every other game, but also somewhat strikeout-prone.  Cleanup hitter despite not hitting a home run all year.

-- Catcher: Chris Okey (.270-3-30).  Actually the catching duties are split almost exactly down the middle between Okey and Garrett Boulware (.298-2-22).  Whichever doesn't catch, DHes.  Freshman Okey has committed fewer errors but Boulware has a slightly better record at catching base-stealers.  Okey, the freshman, bats fifth, while Boulware has batted third all year except for the UGA game, where he was bumped to seventh.

-- Pitching staff:

Friday: LHP Matthew Crownover (6-2, 2.23).  Sophomore who was Clemson's weekday starter last year, so UVA hasn't seen him.  Middling velocity that wasn't there at all last year as he pitched his way back from Tommy John surgery, but excellent command; has walked only 9 batters.  Usual Saturday pitcher this year whose move to Friday is due to Daniel Gossett's shoulder injury.

Saturday: RHP Daniel Gossett (3-0, 2.25).  Lanky veteran right-hander with similar velocity to Crownover; sinking action on a lot of his pitches.  Allowing a .193 batting average.  16th-round draft pick out of high school.  UVA has seen him twice and struggled each time; first in the 2012 ACC tourney where he allowed one run in 6 2/3, and again last year in the regular season where UVA scratched out two runs in 7 innings.  If Gossett can't go, the likely next option is RHP Clate Schmidt (4-5, 3.92), probably the hardest thrower on the team but a guy who was a weekend starter last year and found himself in the bullpen to start this season.  Schmidt has three starts this year in 13 appearances, with only one start against ACC competition (his first was against Georgia, however, three weeks ago.)

Sunday: RHP Jake Long (2-0, 4.06).  Long is a transfer from East Tennessee State, so, another pitcher UVA hasn't seen.  Does not sport a good K/BB ratio at 23/17.  Back trouble kept him out of the NC State series.  The next likely option as a replacement is lefty Zack Erwin (2-2, 4.58).  Either way, Clemson's Sunday pitching has a very tough time matching up with Friday and Saturday.

Bullpen: Will be thinned out considerably if the injuries keep Gossett and Long out again, and Schmidt and Erwin are forced to start.  Matt Campbell (2-0, 0.45) is an outstanding senior closer who's allowed only one earned run in 20 innings.  Righty Drew Moyer (1-0, 3.26), a 6'4" freshman, is the only other reasonably dependable option, but opposing hitters are batting .303 against him.  Clay Bates (0-1, 5.71) has been rather hittable, though he was better last year.  That's about the extent of useful pitchers.  There are no left-handed options out of the pen unless Erwin doesn't start, or unless Clemson decides to give the extremely hittable Alex Bostic a spin.  (Unlikely, as he was given one start this season and promptly blown off the hill - by Western Carolina.  That was an interesting game.  Bostic got a 1-2-3 first and then walked three and allowed two hits in the second, and all five of his runners scored.  Clemson lost, 18-10.)

Bottom line: This weekend matches up the league's top ERA (that'd be us) against the league's top batting average (that'd be them.)  Clemson has a good solid lineup from top to bottom, particularly now that they've excised the guys who can't see the Mendoza Line with binoculars.  This'll be one of, if not the, stiffest tests yet for our pitchers.

However, the Tigers have been inconsistent as well, and fielding - especially up the middle at second and short - has failed them miserably at times.  The pitching depth is suspect.  Crownover should give Nate Kirby a tough battle, and Gossett has handcuffed the Hoos twice, but we don't know if he'll pitch.  Clemson's more than talented enough to take two of three from UVA, but are at risk of being swept if they can't win with Crownover on Friday and if Gossett can't go.  The bullpen desperately needs the presence of Schmidt and Erwin; otherwise, should UVA knock a starting pitcher out of the box early, that game could turn into a Cavalanche in short order.

Prediction: 50% chance of a 2-1 UVA series win, with 25% each of Clemson taking two or UVA getting the sweep.  Let's cut it right down the middle and say we get the win but no sweep; I have a hunch Leggett is using injuries as half an excuse not to just come out and tell us Gossett will pitch, so Clemson should be able to force Sunday to be a rubber match.  By then, though, they'll have used up their useful pitching depth; Clemson's only won one Sunday game all year against teams you'd consider any good.